Celebrations Of The Winter Solstice Through Cultures & Time

Myth bares a indelible connection to the changing of the seasons and the modulation of the land they harbing. Hercules contestation with the Hydra (a multi-headed water monster) in ancient Greece bares parallels to the struggles of Greecian water managers and their multi-faceted (ie. multi-headed) irrigation systems. The snake-god Apophis (Apep) who clashed every morning with Ra as he rode his resplendent barque across the sky, was slain at the beginning of the Nile flood season, but was immortal and eternally recurring (just like the interplay between dry and flooding seasons). The indo-European god Indra (Devendra) defeated the water-serpent Vrtra (which draws its roots in the word wrto/eh, meaning, ‘enclosure’) a victory which corresponds to the release of mighty floods; the beginning of monsoon season.

As with the Greeks, Indo-Europeans and Egyptians, so to with our modern holiday celebrations, chief among which is Christmas, which is, of course, connected to the Winter Solstice; the death of winter and the birth of spring; a renewal of life.

Origins of Christmas

Ritualized celebration of the Winter Solstice is an exceedingly ancient practice that can be traced back to the beginning of recorded history. Whilst many popular celebrations of the the solstice survive to this day, such as the Iranian Shab-e Yalda (a celebration of the triumph of Mithra), or the Chinese Dong Zhi (a celebration of the increase in positive energy concurrent with longer days), the Japanese Toji (practice intended to start the new year with good health and luck), or the Hopi rite of Soyal (night long festival of dancing and gift-giving, celebrating the solstice), none are as famous as the western practice of Christmas.

In modernistically recognizable form, Christmas can be traced back to the establishment of December 25th celebration of the Invincible Sun, Dies Natali Invictus (birthday of the unconquered) or Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of Sol Invictus), by the roman emperor, Aurelian in the 3rd century. Later, in 273. It was not, as might be thought a solstice celebration, but rather a religious ceremony. The Christian Church selected Aurelian’s date as the official birth of Jesus (which was also the birthday of Mithras) and by 336 the solar celebration was Christianized, with Christ having supplanted The Invincible Sun, as the singular focus of the event. The debt to the ancient cult of the sun has continued ever since. Will Durant, in his The Story of Civilization wrote, “Christianity was the last great creation of the ancient Pagan world.”

The Yule Log

The ancient nords annually burnt a great log in honor of the god, Thor. Upon coming into contact with Christians, the practice was adopted and syncretically incorporated into the broader framework of celebration.

The Tree

The fixture of the ‘Christmas tree’ is part of a broader meta-cultural phenomenon which is often expressed through a ‘tree of life’ or ‘tree of the world’ (such as the Eagle-Serpent Tree described in the Myth of Etana or Yggdrasil which also features serpent-eagle motifs) which acts as a nexus for mythological narrative within which are generally metaphors concerning diametrically opposing qualities (such as snake and eagle, land and sky, good and evil, the seen and the hidden, etc). Trees were central to ancient peoples for their fires, their lodgings and shade after a long days toil; additionally, the greening of trees after the passing of winter signaled a great revitalization, the conquest of life over the frigid reign of death, so it is understandable why trees have always been so central to celebrations and rites related to the Winter Solstice (and it is likely that man-made habitation will take up a similar position in the far off future; for example, it may be the space ship which is venerated by exomoon colonies, as the vessel of life). In The Book of Christmas Folklore, Coffin writes of the history of the practice: “Most people have heard that the Christmas tree originates in the tannenbaum and is some sort of vestige of Teutonic vegetation worship. THIS IS PARTIALLY TRUE. However, the custom of using pine and other evergreens ceremonially was well established at the ROMAN SATURNALIA, even earlier in Egypt” (p. 209).

Santa Claus

One of the most iconic of mythological figures associated with contemporary Christmas celebrations is Santa Claus, a fat, bespectacled jolly man possessed of magical powers who travels the word, sliding down the chimney of innumerable homes to give gifts to the deserving. This belief can be traced back to the norse goddess Hertha, who would appear in one’s fireplace to grant good luck. The practice of leaving gifts underneath the tree are also nordic, as Odin would leave gift beneath evergreens during Yuletide, a tree considered sacred due its association with the deity. Tony van Renterghem in his When Santa Was a Shaman, writes:

“In newly Christianized areas where the pagan Celtic and Germanic cults remained strong, legends of the god Wodan were blended with those of various Christian saints; Saint Nicholas was one of these. There were Christian areas where Saint Nicholas ruled alone; in other locations, he was assisted by the pagan Dark Helper (the slave he had inherited from the pagan god Wodan). In other remote areas…ancient pockets of the Olde Religion controlled traditions. Here the Dark Helper ruled alone, sometimes in a most confusing manner, using the cover name of Saint Nicholas or ‘Klaus,’ without in any way changing his threatening, Herne/Pan, fur-clad appearance. (This was the figure later used by the artist Nast as the model for the early American Santa Claus)” (page 96).

Celebrations of the Future

In my own personal capacity, I should like to see the celebration of the Winter Solstice focused upon a veneration of the ingenious human industry which girds us from the rending chaos of frostbite and frigidity, of all that turns against dissolution and all that revitalizes our commitment to our fellows, in sonorous mirth and joyous creativity, as we contemplate the return of warmth and growth and plan endeavours for the Spring.

This season, if you should find yourself warm and well-stocked, thank the local architects and engineers, the electricians and designers who have, through the powers of their mind, created the magnanimous shell which girds you from near-certain death.


Sources & Resources for Further Reading

  1. David C. Pack. (undated) The True Origin of Christmas. RCG.
  2. HOIM Staff. (undated) The Shocking Pagan Origins of Christmas. Hope of Israel Ministries.
  3. Klaus Antoni & David Weiss. (2013) Sources of Mythology: Ancient & Contemporary Myths (Two-Faced Solstice Symbols & The World Tree). 7th Annual International Conference on Comparative Mythology.
  4. Patti Wigington. (2018) History of Yule. ThoughtCo.
  5. Patti Wigington. (2018) Yule Wassail Recipe & History. ThoughtCo.
  6. Sarah Pruitt. (2016) 8 Winter Solstice Celebrations Around The World. History.
  7. Stavanger Writer. (1997) Christmas In Norway. Stavanger-Web.

The Futurist Manifesto of Architecture

The speculative techno-poetic document provided below was written in 1914 by the Futurist architect and draftsman, Antonio Sant’Elia [anˈtɔnjo santeˈlia]. I have here reproduced Sant’Elia’s manifesto in it’s entirety for the prospective edification of my readership.

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‘Air and Train Station with Funiculars,’ by A. Sant’Elia (1914). One of 6 drawings included with the manifesto’s original manuscript.

No architecture has existed since 1700. A moronic mixture of the most various stylistic elements used to mask the skeletons of modern houses is called modern architecture. The new beauty of cement and iron are profaned by the superimposition of motley decorative incrustations that cannot be justified either by constructive necessity or by our (modern) taste, and whose origins are in Egyptian, Indian or Byzantine antiquity and in that idiotic flowering of stupidity and impotence that took the name of neoclassicism.

These architectonic prostitutions are welcomed in Italy, and rapacious alien ineptitude is passed off as talented invention and as extremely up-to-date architecture. Young Italian architects (those who borrow originality from clandestine and compulsive devouring of art journals) flaunt their talents in the new quarters of our towns, where a hilarious salad of little ogival columns, seventeenth-century foliation, Gothic pointed arches, Egyptian pilasters, rococo scrolls, fifteenth-century cherubs, swollen caryatids, take the place of style in all seriousness, and presumptuously put on monumental airs. The kaleidoscopic appearance and reappearance of forms, the multiplying of machinery, the daily increasing needs imposed by the speed of communications, by the concentration of population, by hygiene, and by a hundred other phenomena of modern life, never cause these self-styled renovators of architecture a moment’s perplexity or hesitation. They persevere obstinately with the rules of Vitruvius, Vignola and Sansovino plus gleanings from any published scrap of information on German architecture that happens to be at hand. Using these, they continue to stamp the image of imbecility on our cities, our cities which should be the immediate and faithful projection of ourselves.

And so this expressive and synthetic art has become in their hands a vacuous stylistic exercise, a jumble of ill-mixed formulae to disguise a run-of-the-mill traditionalist box of bricks and stone as a modern building. As if we who are accumulators and generators of movement, with all our added mechanical limbs, with all the noise and speed of our life, could live in streets built for the needs of men four, five or six centuries ago.

This is the supreme imbecility of modern architecture, perpetuated by the venal complicity of the academies, the internment camps of the intelligentsia, where the young are forced into the onanistic recopying of classical models instead of throwing their minds open in the search for new frontiers and in the solution of the new and pressing problem: the Futurist house and city. The house and the city that are ours both spiritually and materially, in which our tumult can rage without seeming a grotesque anachronism.

The problem posed in Futurist architecture is not one of linear rearrangement. It is not a question of finding new moldings and frames for windows and doors, of replacing columns, pilasters and corbels with caryatids, flies and frogs. Neither has it anything to do with leaving a façade in bare brick, or plastering it, or facing it with stone or in determining formal differences between the new building and the old one. It is a question of tending the healthy growth of the Futurist house, of constructing it with all the resources of technology and science, satisfying magisterially all the demands of our habits and our spirit, trampling down all that is grotesque and antithetical (tradition, style, aesthetics, proportion), determining new forms, new lines, a new harmony of profiles and volumes, an architecture whose reason for existence can be found solely in the unique conditions of modern life, and in its correspondence with the aesthetic values of our sensibilities. This architecture cannot be subjected to any law of historical continuity. It must be new, just as our state of mind is new.

The art of construction has been able to evolve with time, and to pass from one style to another, while maintaining unaltered the general characteristics of architecture, because in the course of history changes of fashion are frequent and are determined by the alternations of religious conviction and political disposition. But profound changes in the state of the environment are extremely rare, changes that unhinge and renew, such as the discovery of natural laws, the perfecting of mechanical means, the rational and scientific use of material. In modern life the process of stylistic development in architecture has been brought to a halt. Architecture now makes a break with tradition. It must perforce make a fresh start.

Calculations based on the resistance of materials, on the use of reinforced concrete and steel, exclude “architecture” in the classical and traditional sense. Modern constructional materials and scientific concepts are absolutely incompatible with the disciplines of historical styles, and are the principal cause of the grotesque appearance of “fashionable” buildings in which attempts are made to employ the lightness, the superb grace of the steel beam, the delicacy of reinforced concrete, in order to obtain the heavy curve of the arch and the bulkiness of marble.

The utter antithesis between the modern world and the old is determined by all those things that formerly did not exist. Our lives have been enriched by elements the possibility of whose existence the ancients did not even suspect. Men have identified material contingencies, and revealed spiritual attitudes, whose repercussions are felt in a thousand ways. Principal among these is the formation of a new ideal of beauty that is still obscure and embryonic, but whose fascination is already felt even by the masses. We have lost our predilection for the monumental, the heavy, the static, and we have enriched our sensibility with a taste for the light, the practical, the ephemeral and the swift. We no longer feel ourselves to be the men of the cathedrals, the palaces and the podiums. We are the men of the great hotels, the railway stations, the immense streets, colossal ports, covered markets, luminous arcades, straight roads and beneficial demolitions.

We must invent and rebuild the Futurist city like an immense and tumultuous shipyard, agile, mobile and dynamic in every detail; and the Futurist house must be like a gigantic machine. The lifts must no longer be hidden away like tapeworms in the niches of stairwells; the stairwells themselves, rendered useless, must be abolished, and the lifts must scale the lengths of the façades like serpents of steel and glass. The house of concrete, glass and steel, stripped of paintings and sculpture, rich only in the innate beauty of its lines and relief, extraordinarily “ugly” in its mechanical simplicity, higher and wider according to need rather than the specifications of municipal laws. It must soar up on the brink of a tumultuous abyss: the street will no longer lie like a doormat at ground level, but will plunge many stories down into the earth, embracing the metropolitan traffic, and will be linked up for necessary interconnections by metal gangways and swift-moving pavements.

The decorative must be abolished. The problem of Futurist architecture must be resolved, not by continuing to pilfer from Chinese, Persian or Japanese photographs or fooling around with the rules of Vitruvius, but through flashes of genius and through scientific and technical expertise. Everything must be revolutionized. Roofs and underground spaces must be used; the importance of the façade must be diminished; issues of taste must be transplanted from the field of fussy moldings, finicky capitals and flimsy doorways to the broader concerns of bold groupings and masses, and large-scale disposition of planes. Let us make an end of monumental, funereal and commemorative architecture. Let us overturn monuments, pavements, arcades and flights of steps; let us sink the streets and squares; let us raise the level of the city.

I COMBAT AND DESPISE:

All the pseudo-architecture of the avant-garde, Austrian, Hungarian, German and American;

All classical architecture, solemn, hieratic, scenographic, decorative, monumental, pretty and pleasing;

The embalming, reconstruction and reproduction of ancient monuments and palaces;

Perpendicular and horizontal lines, cubical and pyramidal forms that are static, solemn, aggressive and absolutely excluded from our utterly new sensibility;

The use of massive, voluminous, durable, antiquated and costly materials.

AND PROCLAIM:

That Futurist architecture is the architecture of calculation, of audacious temerity and of simplicity; the architecture of reinforced concrete, of steel, glass, cardboard, textile fiber, and of all those substitutes for wood, stone and brick that enable us to obtain maximum elasticity and lightness;

That Futurist architecture is not because of this an arid combination of practicality and usefulness, but remains art, i.e. synthesis and expression;

That oblique and elliptic lines are dynamic, and by their very nature possess an emotive power a thousand times stronger than perpendiculars and horizontals, and that no integral, dynamic architecture can exist that does not include these;

That decoration as an element superimposed on architecture is absurd, and that the decorative value of Futurist architecture depends solely on the use and original arrangement of raw or bare or violently colored materials;

That, just as the ancients drew inspiration for their art from the elements of nature, we—who are materially and spiritually artificial—must find that inspiration in the elements of the utterly new mechanical world we have created, and of which architecture must be the most beautiful expression, the most complete synthesis, the most efficacious integration;

That architecture as the art of arranging forms according to pre-established criteria is finished;

That by the term architecture is meant the endeavor to harmonize the environment with Man with freedom and great audacity, that is to transform the world of things into a direct projection of the world of the spirit;

From an architecture conceived in this way no formal or linear habit can grow, since the fundamental characteristics of Futurist architecture will be its impermanence and transience. Things will endure less than us. Every generation must build its own city. This constant renewal of the architectonic environment will contribute to the victory of Futurism which has already been affirmed by words-in-freedom, plastic dynamism, music without quadrature and the art of noises, and for which we fight without respite against traditionalist cowardice.


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Another of the sketches included with the original manuscript.